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These are the qualities that make up the model guru. Adi Sankara himself was a Guru of such standards. Every one who has come in the disciplic lineage from him has lived up to that standard, each in his own unique way. The biographies of each of the Sankaracharyas who have held the position of the pontiffs of the various Sankara Mutts, even up to the present time, are full of anecdotes which bear testimony to these characteristics of an ideal Guru.

Another aspect of Guru bhakti is the manner in which it differs and distinguishes itself from Isvara bhakti i.e., devotion to the Lord Almighty Himself. The Lord Almighty is inaccessible whereas a guru is accessible. We pray to the Lord but we generally have our own doubts whether our prayers have been heard. On the other hand a Guru listens to our prayer, reacts to them and brings us solace almost immediately. He may not solve our problems but the very fact he talks comfortingly to us is enough to bring us peace. The fatherly figure of a Guru is a great help this way for us to voice our woes and miseries and even our desires to rise up the ladder of material prosperity. When we make a mistake the Guru tells us in so many words and corrects us. The Lord, however, takes His own time to give us the reward or punishment - in confirmation of the legendary Tamil proverb : deivam nindRu kollum. Finally even as a subject of meditation the Guru scores over the Lord. Because, the Lord whom we have not seen, except in man-made pictures, sculptures and images, has to be imagined from head to foot or foot to head according to certain traditional descriptions. On the other hand the Guru, like one's own mother, comes to the mind in toto as a complete figure, not in bits and pieces that have to be put together.

The Sri Vaishnava tradition lays, in addition to all the above, an extra emphasis on the Guru. The process of surrender to the Lord in total abandon is the cornerstone of Sri Vaishnava philosophy. Traditon insists on six components in this process. The conviction that 'the Lord will protect me under all circumstances' is the first of them. Next is the determination to do only that which is favourable to the Lord and pleasing to Him.Next comes the avoidance of everything that is unfavourable or displeasing to the Lord. These three are conditions the fulfillment of which is the responsibility of the devotee. But there are three more conditions which are more difficult. They are:

1. The adoption of the Lord as the only protector;
2. Laying of one's entire self at the disposal of the Lord; and 
3. The feeling of total triviality and nothingness vis-a-vis the Lord.

This is where the Guru's role becomes important. Whatever one may do, one's past karma and present obstacles to a spiritual pursuit come in the way of the spiritual advance one yearns for, in spite of the regularity of one's life and purity of conduct. One feels that something else other than one's knowledge, conduct and faith is necessary. We realise that even if we surrender to God we are not able to ingratiate ourselves into the Lord's favour. A Guru actually pleads for us with the Lord on our behalf. In fact there is a saying:

Sive rushte gurus-trAtA, gurau rushte na kaScana

- meaning, When the Lord is angered the Guru becomes the saviour but when the Guru is angered, nobody can save. We need the Guru for this role of his. The Guru enables us by precept and example to rid ourselves of the burden which we are unable to bear any more. This is technically called 'laying off the burden' - bhAra-nyAsa -in Sri Vaishnava jargon.

According to that tradition Guru is equated to the pAdukA (= sandal) of the divine feet. Vedanta Desika's pAdukA-sahasram is a well-known marathon eulogy of the pAdukAscontaining 1000 verses, all composed in one night, by the Grace of the pAdukA. For details about pAdukA-sahasram go to Beach 6, Wave 1 of Gems from the Ocean of ... .

In the esoteric interpretations about the divine feet in the advaita tradition, however, things are a little more complicated. There is the 'tookiya tiruvaDi' (the raised foot)  (kunchita-pAda, in Sanskrit)of the Lord of the Cosmic Dance and there is the 'oonRiya tiruvaDi' (the placed foot). The raised foot of the Divine gives moksha (liberation) from the cycle of births and deaths, whereas the placed foot disintegrates all the sins of the individual. In addition to the standard three functions of the Divine Absolute, namely, Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution, there are two more, called tirodhAna ( = concealment, eradication, vanishing) and anugraha (=Grace).

These five-fold phenomena constitute the entire cosmic cycle of events. Though the third function, dissolution, puts an end to everything, it does not put an end to the sins - why sins, in fact all karma - in the bank-balance of individual jIvas. They remain in latent form till the beginning of the next cycle of creation. It is only the tirodhAna function of the Lord that eradicates the latent vAsanAs stored up by past karma. This 'tirodhAna' is the function of the 'placed foot' of the Divine. On the other hand, anugraha - Grace, the award of moksha is the function of the 'raised' foot of the Lord. That is why one surrenders to the kunchita-pAda of the Lord for Him to grace us so that 'we are no more thrown in the deep abysses of the feminine womb to be born again'. In the advaita tradition, this 'tookiya tiruvaDi' is equated to the Guru. He is the One on Earth who can grant the same Grace. The small poem bhaja-govindam of Adi SankarAchArya extols the lotus feet of the Guru for this very purpose. Incidentally the folklore is that Sankara immortalised the name Govinda in that stotra because it was the name of his Guru!

Indeed the Guru's Grace can give us a double benefit. It can give us what we want in this mundane world as well as take us towards the Lord. Guru destroys the ignorance of the disciple. He may do it by actual teaching, He may do it by just a blessing, or he may do it by a spiritual fiat. The last verse of bhaja-govindam talks of the disciple who is




i.e, the one who is deeply immersed in the lotus feet of the guru. The profound subtlety in this reference to the feet of the guru here is to the fact that the guru stands for certain principles of behaviour as well as of wisdom. He not only stands for them but he stands on them! -- in the sense that the greatness of the guru goes back to the values of life for which he lives and preaches all his life. So the sandals or the feet on which he stands represent the values for which he stood. Therefore the devotion to those feet and to those sandals of the divine guru, will certainly confer on one the strength to respect and reverberate the same values. His 'placed foot' is ideal for us to cling close to his ideals and values.

A significant Sloka in the tradition in connection with the concept of the guru ought to be more well-known than it is now. The Sloka is analogous to the one (beginning with akAla-mRtyu-haraNam) that we repeat when we take the sacred water, at then of a ritual or a pUjA, in the hollow of the right hand and drink with reverence and sprinkle on ourselves, so that it may ward off untimely death, rid us of all diseases, and absolve us of all our sins. The corresponding Slokafor taking the holy water which has washed the feet of the guru is :

avidyA-mUla-nASAya janma-karma-nivRttaye /
jnAna-vairAgya-siddhyartham guru-padodakam Subham //

The holy water off the feet of the Guru is so powerful that it will destroy the very root of our Ignorance (which is the cause of all samsAra), it will eradicate the cause-and-effect chain, the cause being our karma and the effect being further birth (and therefore, death); and most of all it will bestow on us the spiritual knowledge and ultimate dispassion (and then we will be right at the very goal of all Life).

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